It was about a month ago that Kat Robinson, a beloved Arkansas food author, messaged me to see if I would serve as a judge in the first-ever Arkansas Pie Festival. Of course, Kat is the final authority on pies in the Natural State, so getting to work with her on anything pie-related was pretty much an automatic “yes” from me. And then she sent me the details.
A pie festival. On Easter weekend. In Cherokee Village.
For those who don’t know (like I didn’t), Cherokee Village is a small town straddling Fulton and Sharp counties in far north Arkansas. The last census found just over 4,000 people living there, but it’s likely around half of those just own property they use for a vacation or time-share rental. It’s beautiful, owing much to the manmade lakes set in tiers throughout the community, which produce scenic waterfalls and peaceful dockside settings.
And this tiny town, 2.5 hours away from Little Rock, was staking its claim as the unofficial home to pies in Arkansas?
But it turns out that Cherokee Village is the ideal location for such a festival. Arkansas pie is largely based in the rural parts of the state. Shops like Charlotte’s in Keo and Tacker’s Shake Shack in Marion make some of the best pies you can find. Plus, Cherokee Village has the perfect facility for such an event. An old shopping center courtyard, flush with parking options, served as a home base for live music, a pie-eating contest, a good ol’ pie-in-the-face booth, arts and crafts, a silent auction, and food trucks from around the area.
And of course, the pie. Thirty-five of them to be exact, and most of those made by amateurs. Along with Kat, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette senior editor Rex Nelson and myself sampled and judged every one of them. And in the end, a sublime brown sugar buttermilk pie from Dogwood Hills Guest Farm from the small town of Harriet took the top spot for professionals, while a perfect tomato pie (my favorite of the day) from Patricia French won the amateur contest.
But the festival was a huge success well before the winners were announced. Seeing more than 700 guests come out to enjoy an inaugural pie festival in rural Arkansas was an exciting reminder that this state still loves supporting its communities. Watching people come rub elbows with Rex and line up to get autographs from Kat showed how special their longtime work promoting Arkansas’ food culture really is (nobody knew who I was, and that was perfectly fine). Coming into the first Arkansas Pie Festival, I wondered if anybody would even show up. Now I can’t wait to go back next year.